Lawsuit accuses director of fraud

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A federal lawsuit against Augusta's procurement director accuses her of running a rigged bidding system, punishing some contractors while playing favorites with others.

Attorney Robert Mullins filed the suit Wednesday on behalf of the Association for Fair Government and three companies who lost out on government jobs. One of the three is Thompson Building Wrecking Co., which sued the city in 2006 after its bid to demolish the Telfair Street candy factory was rejected over a technicality.

The new complaint depicts a procurement department operating on inconsistent, sometimes irrational rules. It characterizes director Geri Sams as "stubbornly litigious," acting with "malice, fraud, wantonness, oppression" and "indifference to consequences."

Ms. Sams could not be reached for comment Wednesday on the lawsuit, which represents only one side of a dispute. She was out of her office and did not return a message left with her staff. She and the city government, also a defendant, have 20 days to respond to the allegations.

A review by The Augusta Chronicle , published Jan. 27, found that her department's rejection of low bidders cost taxpayers $2 million in 2006 and 2007. Mr. Mullins' suit says she's also violating bidders' civil rights.

In one case, CSRA Testing & Engineering underbid Florida-based MC Squared by more than $100,000 for a scientific testing job at the Highland Avenue water plant. The local company was rejected because it submitted six copies of its proposal instead of seven. MC Squared got the job, even though "upon information and belief," the Florida company also submitted only six copies, the suit says.

Paperwork requirements, supporting documents, financial statements and other attachments are required of bidders under the "materiality provision" of city code. A review of 100 procurement projects found 87 bids rejected because of incomplete packages, but 97 bids not rejected despite paperwork problems, according to the suit.

Before a federal judge declared the city's program that gave preference to minority contractors unconstitutional, Disadvantaged Business Enterprise papers were also required.

Still, 20 companies that didn't submit the documents got a pass, while 20 others who failed to do so were rejected.

Mr. Mullins said Wednesday he doesn't know why Ms. Sams would operate her department that way.

"That's a very good question," he said. "I certainly hope we all find out at some point."

The suit seeks unspecified punitive damages and attorneys fees, as well as the materiality provision and bid protest rule being declared invalid.

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or johnny.edwards@augustachronicle.com.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS


Superior Court Judge Carl C. Brown Jr. dismissed a counterclaim which could have forced the Association for Fair Government to pay attorney fees and punitive damages for adding City Clerk Lena Bonner to an open records lawsuit.


Ms. Bonner retained private attorney Benjamin Allen, who rang up more than $7,800 in bills charging $275 per hour. She was later dropped from the suit when the association accepted that a computer problem was to blame for changes and deletions to commission documents posted on the city's Web page.


The Augusta Chronicle joined the suit, which sought access to procurement records, but Ms. Bonner only sought damages from the association.

Comments (53) Add comment
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patriciathomas
42
Points
patriciathomas 02/14/08 - 05:00 am
0
0
This department hasn't passed

This department hasn't passed the smell test for years and even though legal action was closing in, Geri Sams continued to operate as though she were invulnerable. Reality is always a surprise to those that won't see.

booger
0
Points
booger 02/14/08 - 06:58 am
0
0
The commissioners need to

The commissioners need to take care of this problem or be legally held accountable.

WHATDIDIDO
0
Points
WHATDIDIDO 02/14/08 - 07:36 am
0
0
So easy to blame this lady

So easy to blame this lady when it is the Commissioners job to oversee the operation of the County 's government. I noticed a trend around this county. If you do not get wht you want, just cry to the paper and file a lawsuit.

pofwe
5
Points
pofwe 02/14/08 - 07:49 am
0
0
What will it take for the

What will it take for the city to rid itself of this arrogant, spiteful, haughty, unqualified, racist, .... etc, ... replica of a procurement director? Talk to me hypocrit.

stadry
0
Points
stadry 02/14/08 - 07:50 am
0
0
many local contractors've

many local contractors've wondered about procurement's operating & decision methods,,, sent an e-mail to ms. sam's asst ( no e-ddress for ms. sams on procurement's webpage ) asking where bid prices're publicly posted but no answer yet,,, normal bid pkgs require bidders ' hold ' pricing for 60 days yet procurement's decisions often exceed 60 especially when outside agencies're involved,,, none of the contractors w/whom i talk believe procurement deliberately delays contracts,,, personally, i think the staff works at or very near their capacity,,, proficiency & capability's another issue,,, as w/arena/bell operation, procurement & public works could easily be outsourced,,, we'd receive faster results, better decisions, lower cost [employee overhead/retirement/vacation], & single source responsibility,,, not to mention we could always fire them instead of promoting 'em,,, just my $.03

ripjones
2
Points
ripjones 02/14/08 - 07:58 am
0
0
Hypocrites2008 -- I have a

Hypocrites2008 -- I have a problem with your thought process. You are correct about the Commission's job is to "oversee", but somehow you think that means they should micro-manage, and you can't have it both ways. Oversee, means to maintain a vision of what is going on, at the thirty thousand foot level, not ground zero. The Procurement Department has been discussed in Grand Jury proceedings before. At that time, Ms. Sams should've been smart enough to know that it was time to clean up her act. Apparently, she was not. I think her time is up, and she should be replaced. The candy factory demolition fiasco, should have been her swan song. The new commission needs to clean its house.

WHATDIDIDO
0
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WHATDIDIDO 02/14/08 - 08:19 am
0
0
I do not know what it will

I do not know what it will take to get rid or you POFWE. I have been asking myself that same question, over and over again.

GSneed
0
Points
GSneed 02/14/08 - 08:44 am
0
0
Hold all people euqlly

Hold all people euqlly accountable and the problem will slow down, but not come to a complete stop. Never will it stop, because greed and power are the roots of all evil.

CSRAider
0
Points
CSRAider 02/14/08 - 09:14 am
0
0
Why in the world would the

Why in the world would the city let crap like this keep going on.

LaTwon
1
Points
LaTwon 02/14/08 - 09:23 am
0
0
lets give them another penny

lets give them another penny so they can pay their legal fees.

Rob Pavey
552
Points
Rob Pavey 02/14/08 - 09:26 am
0
0
if the city has nothing to

if the city has nothing to hide why are they refusing access to all the public records that would tell the complete, truthful story?

NicoleKelly
7
Points
NicoleKelly 02/14/08 - 09:28 am
0
0
Patrica Thomas you don't know

Patrica Thomas you don't know what you're talking about. She goes by the book. I'm tired of the government always coming after my mother. Please get your facts straight before you go believing this one sided newspaper. In case you forgot, when the grand jury came after my mother she was cleared of any wrong doing. This is just another case of B.S.

NicoleKelly
7
Points
NicoleKelly 02/14/08 - 09:30 am
0
0
Please get your facts

Please get your facts straight!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Yes, Geri Sams is my mother and we're going to fight this B.S. Sending all my love from California.. Happy Valentine's Day Mother!!!!!!!!!! Tiffany Kelly

bluelight
28
Points
bluelight 02/14/08 - 09:41 am
0
0
It would seem that the role

It would seem that the role of the department is to ensure that the taxpayers are getting the most for their money. Apparently this is not the case. Guidelines should be followed, but common sense and good judgement should play a part as well. If the department were spending their money, probably there would not have been an extra 2 million spent. I think that it would behoove the commissioners and the dept. director to avoid the appearance of any wrong doing.

NicoleKelly
7
Points
NicoleKelly 02/14/08 - 09:44 am
0
0
And again for all you

And again for all you non-believers please check out the Metro Spirit
Issue #19.29 :: 02/13/2008 - 02/19/2008
Under fire

Augusta Procurement Director Geri Sams fights back against allegations her department has cost the taxpayers millions

Read a real newspaper for a change. You’ll see the truth!!!!!!!!

WW1949
19
Points
WW1949 02/14/08 - 09:48 am
0
0
I haven't bid a job for the

I haven't bid a job for the city in quite a long time. The paperwork is a nightmare. And the last time I went to a bid opening there were people from Savannah, Columbia and all over bidding on a small job. Too much time for too little money.
Most of the paper work is just bs.

WW1949
19
Points
WW1949 02/14/08 - 09:49 am
0
0
On the jobs I have done, I

On the jobs I have done, I never had a problem with Ms. Sams.

brainyboomer
0
Points
brainyboomer 02/14/08 - 10:16 am
0
0
Kelly girls...I applaud your

Kelly girls...I applaud your support of your mother, however, facts are facts. Geri Sam's has never been cleared of anything and she has run her department based on fear and retaliation. Her support base has deteriorated and she needs to answer for her actions. Geri is always claiming she is kin to Charles Walker and could do whatever she wanted. She needs to plead for mercy aand resign. I would also like to see her transcripts for the various degrees she "claims" to have. Her degrees are as real as her hair.

Soplar
0
Points
Soplar 02/14/08 - 10:17 am
0
0
Augusta-Richmond County needs

Augusta-Richmond County needs the committees heavily involved in the bid process when the contract is over a certain dollar value (e.g., $5,000). Plus, every bidder should be given a mandatory grace period (e.g., one week) to fix any technical violations. Let the bid process then run its course and go to the appropriate committee for recommendation. At that point, a bidder who failed to fix a technical violation may attempt to persuade the committee to recommend that the Commission waive the technical violation. Furthermore, the reason(s) any and all bids were rejected must be presented to the committee. Afterwards, the committee makes its recommendation and the Commission votes.

jack
10
Points
jack 02/14/08 - 10:29 am
0
0
Hypocrite, I have wondered

Hypocrite, I have wondered what it would take to get rid of you, but seems you hang in there with your black racist attitudes. In the first place, oversight of the various departments should be by the County Administrator (or whatever his job is called) on day to day operations. Same for hiring and firing of Dept heads. The commission should have about the same oversight of various departments as does Congress over the Executive Branch. However, seems that there are some commissioners who support this incompetent woman purely because of her race which (surprise!) is black.

NicoleKelly
7
Points
NicoleKelly 02/14/08 - 10:30 am
0
0
You’re obviously considered a

You’re obviously considered a hater…. My mother worked hard for all her achievements in life. Please stop hating, and get the facts straight. Why even throw the Walker name into this. This has nothing to do with what’s going on. Get your facts straight and stop being a hater. Who are you to ask about someone credentials anyways? You sound like an old disgruntled employee. Show your true colors Brainey Boomer…. My mother is a Diva!!!!!!!!! She’s simply fabulous. Hater

jack
10
Points
jack 02/14/08 - 10:34 am
0
0
Kelly girls, facts are indeed

Kelly girls, facts are indeed facts and this case will expose your mother's KNOWN and DEMONSTRATED incompetence and racism in doing business.

WHATDIDIDO
0
Points
WHATDIDIDO 02/14/08 - 10:36 am
0
0
JACK, the person who was

JACK, the person who was named the " MOST RACIST POSTER" by the Metro Spirit is calling me a racist? Man, show me on my post where I made a racist comment. But to make you happy I will now. I believe that the eye holes in your sheet are too small or the hood is too tight on your head. You are reading things that I have never posted.

WHATDIDIDO
0
Points
WHATDIDIDO 02/14/08 - 10:38 am
0
0
By the way " JACK YOU KNOW

By the way " JACK YOU KNOW THE REST, if I was such a racist that supported a Black person no matter what, then explain my vote for Hillary instead of Obama?

G.R.I.T.S
0
Points
G.R.I.T.S 02/14/08 - 10:55 am
0
0
Sounds like another mess in

Sounds like another mess in Augusta today. Black, white, purple, or green. It doesn't matter. If she has not been doing her job, she should be fired. If it takes an investigation to prove or DISPROVE the alligations, then investigate.

Kelly girls - calm down. I'm sure you are very proud of your mother, afterall, she's YOUR MOTHER. Step back and be a little more reflective instead of reactive. If she has not done anything wrong, the truth will come out and she will be vindicated. Remember, sometimes God tests us so that we do not loose faith. But nothing can change the fact that she is your Mom, you love her, and you want to defend her. In the mean time, tell her you have faith in her and try to hang on to each other. Make sure she and you understand, that if the statements that are being made turn out to be true, it is not the end of the world. It's just the end of her job and you will still have each other.

NicoleKelly
7
Points
NicoleKelly 02/14/08 - 11:03 am
0
0
There’s only one daughter and

There’s only one daughter and her name is Tiffany Kelly. I’m not a girl, I’m a grown woman. Happy Valentine’s Day Mother…. Sending my love from California….XOXO

stadry
0
Points
stadry 02/14/08 - 11:23 am
0
0
its outrageous to raise the '

its outrageous to raise the ' race card ' in this discussion,,, to my knowledge, any mention of race wasn't part of the filed suit,,, it is fair to compare augusta to other county's purchasing/bid/procurement operations & professionalism but the main question remains - is or isn't augusta's procurement dept. performing its tasked duty to the benefit of the city w/o discrimination or preference ? ? ? public records ARE public !

HuckFinn
0
Points
HuckFinn 02/14/08 - 11:24 am
0
0
Well paperwork is a fact of

Well paperwork is a fact of Govt bids, it's not something Ms. Sams invented. In addition, it is common to not accept the low bid - many companies throw out the lowest and the highest bidder then begin their evaluation. It could be a good thing if a firm that couldn't follow the bidding instructions or submit the bid on time were not allowed to hold a large public construction contract, but that's my opinion. That said, if illegal activity or incompetant activity is occurring then sure the other shoe will certainly drop, until then she is not guilty until proven so... Huck

stadry
0
Points
stadry 02/14/08 - 11:32 am
0
0
just thought of this,,,

just thought of this,,, wonder if this suit/aforementioned grand jury audit includes/ed how augusta buys architectural svcs or surveying on small jobs under $5K,,, these aren't sealed bids but rfp's,,, there does seem to be a pattern to those items.

stadry
0
Points
stadry 02/14/08 - 11:42 am
0
0
huck makes a good point but

huck makes a good point but we're discussing PUBLIC $$$, not private,,, we've bid on both & know the ' rules ' in advance,,, we attended the mandatory pre-bid conference for city hall's repair/restoration/window/roofing project now in progress,, yes, there was only 1 bid,,, we didn't bid due to project's magnitude & staff we could dedicate,,, personally, the low/only bidder's price was fair & well within market costs compared to similar work,,, apologies if anyone thinks i'm too wordy on this topic but have had to work w/procurement for the past 4 yrs.

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